Rachel Schwartz is a Natural Home & Garden editorial intern. She attends the University of Kansas where she studies Journalism and writes columns about environmental and organic health for the campus newspaper, The University Daily Kansan. She is passionate about reducing her carbon footprint and filling her body with the best possible foods.
I started dyeing my hair almost a year ago. It went from red to brown to black (the current color). I get a huge rush out of dyeing my hair and changing my style. But recently, when I began considering yet again changing my hair color, I thought about all of the chemicals in hair dye, and I started asking myself questions: What do they do to my hair? Does my body absorb those chemicals? Are they yet another think that causes cancer.
So, I decided to find the answers.
Let’s first do a little run down on types of hair dyes. There are temporary hair dyes, which just soak into your hair; semi-permanent hair dyes that go into the hair shaft; and permanent hair dyes, which chemically change the shaft forever!
As you probably know, dyeing your hair a lot throughout your life can cause lots of hair damage because of all of the chemicals your hair soaks up from the dyes. The chemicals that pose health risks include P-Phenylenediamine (PPD), resorcinol, ammonia, persulfates, hydrogen peroxide and lead acetate.
PPD is thought to be the most dangerous of the chemicals in hair dyes. It can be found in more than two-thirds of hair dyes, and can produce harmful effects. It can cause allergic reactions such as blistering skin and difficulty breathing. This narrowing of the airways can even cause asthma or death.
The other chemicals in hair dyes can cause allergic reactions and problems in the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems. According to the American Cancer Society, scientists suspect that some of the chemicals in hair dyes—hydrogen peroxide, phenols and amines—can cause bladder cancer, lymphoma and leukemia.
Those health problems aren’t exactly what I what to get out of dyeing my hair; not too appealing. After doing some more research (not the boring 10-page paper kind either), I found some intriguing DIY organic hair dyes that sound simple enough. The coloring process takes more patience than conventional hair dye because you may have to repeat it multiple times for multiple days. Think about this though— would you rather wait longer for your hair color to be perfect or suddenly have asthma? I’m choosing the first.
Depending on what color you want it, you can use different ingredients to naturally dye your hair. A rinse made from coffee, henna or sage leaves can naturally dye hair brown or black, while lemon juice, chamomile and calendula are good options for those wanting to go blonde. Because natural hair dyes aren’t as strong, you’ll need to rinse with these materials upwards of 10 times on a weekly basis for good results. For more on natural hair dyes, check out this informative article from Mother Earth News magazine., or these recipes for homemade hair dyes from Green Eco Services. I’m thinking about going brown. The coffee aroma of the process will be an added perk.